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Could spider venom unlock new treatments for type 2?

Project summary

Dr Nigel Irwin has discovered that molecules found in spider venom have the potential to help us produce more insulin and lower blood sugar levels. His PhD student will now unpick exactly how these molecules could help the pancreas to work better, and test if they’re safe in mice. This could pave the way for new and improved treatments for people with Type 2 diabetes, which could help to lower their risk of complications.

Background to research

Scientists have discovered that venom from certain animals around the world can be a source of innovative medicines. Venoms contain thousands of components, many of them harmful, but researchers have been able to home in on specific beneficial parts. Hormones found in the venom of a type of lizard have already been used to develop a common medication for people with Type 2 diabetes, called exenatide, which works to boosts the body's ability to release insulin.

More recently, Dr Irwin has discovered that a molecule found in the venom of the Mexican Blonde tarantula spider can increase insulin production and lower blood sugar levels. His research team has also found several other molecules from spider venom which they think hold potential to treat Type 2 diabetes.

Despite the wide range of Type 2 diabetes medications already available, not everyone with Type 2 has safe blood sugar levels. Scientists and doctors now believe that the complexity of Type 2 diabetes means drugs don’t always work well for everyone. So new treatments, and an understanding of who they work best in, could improve the health of people with Type 2 diabetes in the future.

Research aims

Dr Irwin and his PhD student will study spider venom molecules in detail to build a picture of how they work, what they do and how safe they are. The research student will use cutting-edge techniques to unpick exactly how the molecules help insulin-producing cells to work better.

The most promising molecules will be taken on to the next stage of experiments, where the researchers will treat a group of mice that have Type 2 diabetes with their top spider venom compounds. They will look at the effects on the pancreas in mice with Type 2 who receive the treatment, mice with Type 2 who don’t, and healthy mice without diabetes. This will help the scientists to work out if the molecules are safe and effective - an essential step towards developing a new treatment for people with Type 2 diabetes.

Potential benefit to people with diabetes

By building a picture of how spider venom molecules can improve blood sugar levels, our scientists hope this research could pave the way for new and improved treatments for Type 2 diabetes. These insights could also help researchers to determine how any new drugs could be used in combination with existing drugs, and who is most likely to benefit most.

More effective treatment options could ultimately mean better care for people with Type 2 diabetes, improving their health and potentially reducing the risk of diabetes-related complications in the future.

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